• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Memorial Day, 2006

It is for us the living … to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address

It was in the 4th grade that Mr. Welch, the Principal of Innis Street Elementary School in Oil City, Pennsylvania, insisted his pupils memorize the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was here as well that Mr. Welch had us memorize the Preamble to the Constitution.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Mr. Welch took great pains to explain to us the meaning of the phrase more perfect union. After all, he asked us “weren’t we already perfect?” What possibility could we have, the descendants of the founders, to take their creation and make it more perfect? Doesn’t perfect mean perfect. Isn’t more perfect an oxymoron?

Not quite, Mr. Welch patiently explained to his young students. After the revolution, the founders had written the Articles of Confederation. It was, at the time, their best guess at perfect union. By 1787 it became apparent that an even more perfect union was needed and the Constitution was born, not yet to be perfect but only to be more perfect. By 1787, the founders understood that there could be no perfect union, there could only be better and better approximations to our ever-evolving perception of perfection.

Four score and seven years later America was to become even more perfect with the end of slavery. This too is part of Mr. Welch’s story, for his grandfather, Col. Norman J. Maxwell, had led the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers, “The Roundheads,” in the Union Army during the Civil War.

A hundred years later, with the civil rights movement and the end of legal segregation, we became even more perfect. Government of the people, by the people, for the people took on new meaning as the right to vote was extended to Americans of all races, just as it had been extended to women in 1920.

The challenge to become more perfect continues to the present day. As the founders understood, America’s moral strength lies not in being perfect but in accepting the responsibility to become more perfect. The challenge remains to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Over the last 40 years, too many Americans have come to see the world in terms that can only be characterized as good versus evil. It is a situation that the atrocity of 9/11 has made worse.

Too many Americans on the right see an America that represents perfect good while seeing those who oppose us as pure evil. These Americans have no impetus to work for the more perfect union envisioned by the founders, for in their worldview we are already perfect.

Likewise, too many Americans on the left see an America that is pure evil, seeing those who oppose us as perfect good. These Americans have no impetus to work for the more perfect union envisioned by the founders, for in their worldview good cannot arise from evil.

Mr. Welch taught his 4th graders that America was special, not because we were perfect, but because we were committed to striving to become ever more perfect. He taught us that the American experiment in self-government was one that would evolve through the years, that the objective was not some false sense of perfection but a continued determination to becoming more perfect.

Mr. Welch taught his 4th graders that we had an obligation, a duty, a responsibility to build upon the sacrifice of those who gave their last full measure of devotion so we could be free, so that our children and grandchildren could grow up to live in a world where all live free, where nation no longer lifts up sword against nation, and where all, regardless of circumstance, have true opportunity.

A few years ago Mr. Welch’s grandson, David Welch, wrote to me about the Civil War that “the devotion with which soldiers from both sides fought—and the sacrifices that families suffered—for causes they believed in laid the groundwork for the toughness, tenacity and spirit that has been our trademark for all subsequent wars to preserve freedom.”

This is, perhaps, the essence of government of the people … by the people … for the people for it is only free men and women who have the devotion and are willing to make the sacrifices for the causes they believe in, to continually work together to form that more perfect union.

It is these men and women we remember on this Memorial Day. These men and women whose memory we honor. These men and women, whose unfinished work to form a more perfect union it is our duty to carry on.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2006. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

Join the Agnostic Patriot Email List

Get these essays sent to your inbox:

Speak Your Mind

*